Let us pray: Spirit of the Living God, enlighten our minds to know the Truth, strengthen our hearts to accept the Truth and cause us to live for the Truth. Through this article, restore those who have fallen from the Truth, convince the doubting hearts, clarify the confused mind and lead us all to the fullness of ‘Truth through Christ our Lord. Amen
One of the readers of this Catechesis Corner in Daily Strength Devotional sent a question regarding Catholic the use of images thus:
“The Bible, in many verses, prohibits the making of images of anything beneath, above and on earth ‘eg’ (for example) as in Exodus 20:4- 5a: Has the Catholic Church been disobeying God’s Word all these ages as it seems to do copiously what God prohibits?”
Another reader also to thus wrote
“Please as a Catholic I am no longer comfortable about the images I see in the Church I need. help.”
From the above, our focus shall be to broaden our understanding of the context and meaning of Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 5:9 and Deuteronomy 4’15-18 we shall expose Catholic teachings on the use of statues’ and Images in worship.
From the days of the Apostles, the Catholic Church has consistently condemned the sin of idolatry. The early Church Fathers warn against this sin and Church Councils also dealt with the issue. The Catechism of the council of Trent (1566) taught that idolatry is committee By worshipping Idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them (374). According to CCC. 2114 “Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An Idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God. The admiration given to sacred images is a ‘respect’ not the adoration due to God alone. Anyone who suggests otherwise is mistaken and seriously misrepresents the Catholic teachings. Sacred arts (images, statues, pictures etc.) are used to evangelize, catecheze (educate) and for prayer. The way we use sacred arts is related to our use of family pictures or national flags and statues. we obviously do not consider pictures of our children as being our actual children, but simply a reminder of them. So, it is with sacred arts in any form. If a child kisses his or her mother’s picture, that does not amount to idolatry, in the same manner the use of sacred arts in religious context does not necessarily amount to idolatry. Sacred arts do help some of us to ultimately raise our hearts and minds I to God – to aid us in prayer.
There are some who contend that having statues at all breaks the commandment, “You shall not make … a graven image …. ” The Church answers by saying that the context of Exodus 20: 1-6, especially, “you shall not bow down to them or serve them”, indicates that this prohibition applies only to images created for the purpose of worship and idolatry. It is not the making of statues or images that is the problem, it is making them to worship – that is the issue! Every country has statues and pictures or bust of iconic persons like ex-presidents, national heroes and many more but their paying homage to whom it represents is not considered worshipping or idolizing. To everyone this is normal to remember special people who once lived. So many of our road junctions and roundabouts are filled with the images of native/ national heroes, that is images of things on earth. Our homes are filled with pictures and drawings of beloved family members, and all sort of artistic representations of humans, animals, trees etc. do all these count as idolatry?
If we take Exodus 20: 1-6 literally, as some argued, it will be taking it out of context, it does not allow for the making of an image pictures or statue of virtually anything on earth, in heaven and beneath the earth. An absolute literal interpretation of Exodus 20: 1-6 will mean that having personal/family pictures will be a sin, I creating images (artistic representation) of national heroes a sin – no statue or artwork of animals, no etchings or carvings of mountains – nothing! This sounds unreasonable because it is not what the commandment is getting at. It is simply referring to and prohibiting the creation of images for the purpose of Idolatrous worship.
The Bible which bans idolatry sanctions statues and images: The Bible presents God as commissioning statues and images for religious usage in Exodus 25: 18-20; 7:13-51; EzekieI 41:17-18, 1 Kings 6:23; Numbers 21:6-9 and Judges 17:1-6 and 1 Chr 28:18-19:1. God commanded the Israelite to make statues of Cherubim. Examples include Ex. 25:18-20; I Chr. 28:18-19 and Ezekiel 41: 17-18. In Chapter 25 of Exodus the people I are told to make images of cherubim to fit on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. These images were to help the people understand the importance of the ark. Exodus. I 25:18“And you shall make two cherubim of gold [i.e., two gold statues of angels] of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.” Exodus.26.1: When He gave instructions for the tabernacle, God told Moses to weave images of angels into the curtains. 1 Chronicles 28:18-19 – tells how David gave Solomon the plan for an altar made of refined gold and “a golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” Ezekiel 41: 17 -18 – The Prophet describes graven (carved) images in the idealized temple he was shown in a vision. He writes, “On the walls round about in the inner room and on the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim.”
In plague of serpents sent to punish the Israelite during the Exodus, God told Moses to “make [a statue of] a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it shall live (Num. 21: 8-9). One had to look at the bronze statue of the serpent to be healed, which shows that statues could also be used ritualIy, not merely as religious decorations. It was when people began to worship statue as god that the Lord became angry. Thus when people did start to worship the bronze serpent as a snake-god (whom the named, “Nehushtan”, the righteous king Hezekiah had it destroy 2Kgs. 18:4).
A reader cited Deuteronomy 5:9, where God said concerning Idols, “You shall not bow down to them”. Since many Catholics sometimes bow or kneel in front of statues of Jesus and the Saints, anti-Catholics confuse the legitimate veneration of a sacred image with the sin idolatry.
Though bowing can be used as a posture in worship, not all bowing is worship. In Japan and Africa people show respect by bowing or laying down in greeting (the equivalent of the Western handshake). Similarly, a person can kneel before a king but does not worship him as a god. In the same way, a Catholic who may kneel in front of a statue while praying isn’t worshipping the statue or even praying to it, any more than the Protestant who kneels with a Bible in his hands when praying is worshipping the Bible or praying to it. God forbade the worship of statues” but he did not forbid the religious use of statues. Instead, he actually commanded their use in religious contexts!
Catholics use statues, paintings, and other artistic devices to recall the person or thing depicted. Just as it helps one to remember one’s mother by looking at her photograph, so it helps us to recall the example of the Saints by looking at pictures of them. Catholics also use statues as teaching tools. In the early Church images and statues were especially useful for the instruction of the illiterate. Catholics also use statues to commemorate certain people and events, much as many Christians uses religious greeting cards, and T-Shirts with the image of Jesus imprinted In them. We should read Exodus 20: 1-6 in correlation with Ex. 25: 18-20, 1 Chr. 28: 18-19, Ezekiel41:17-18, Num. 21:8-9, Joshua 5:14, then we will get the authentic and holistic interpretation, which will be inline with the apostolic teaching as contained and evident in the official Catholic teaching. Remember the Church cannot err in the fields of faith and moral teachings. We are proudly Catholic. May God help to make good religious use of sacred arts according to the mind of Christ and His Church we ask this through the same Christ our Lord.