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De Moor IV:15: Against Images of God

What things occur at this point are without difficulty.

The Papists here imitate the Jacobites, so called after one Jacob, a Syrian, an obscure man, who lived with Anastasius ruling during the Sixth Century,[1] and gave his name to the Jacobites in Syria and in the East constituting a peculiar family of Eutychians[2] thereafter. Now, concerning these Jacobites NICEPHORUS[3] has noted in addition, Historia Ecclesiastica, book XVIII, chapter LIII, column 1165, as absurd in the extreme, that they fashioned Images of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For, the images, says he, are of those bodies are able to be seen and circumscribed: not of those that are invisible, and cannot be comprehended by the intellect.

As far as the Papists are concerned, Bellarmine, in book II de Reliquiis et Imaginibus Sanctorum, chapter VIII, Controversiis, tome 2, column 954, declares, “It is not certain in the Church, whether Images of God, or of the Trinity, as much as of Christ and the Saints, are to be made; for the latter all Catholics confess and pertains to the faith, but the former is in the realm of opinion.” He acknowledges that some of the Catholics, like Abulensis[4] on chapter IV of Deuteronomy, question 5; Durandus[5] on Sentences III, distinction IX, question 2; and Peresius[6] de Traditionibus, part III, in tractatu de Imaginibus; abide in the same opinion with Calvin, when they teach, “The Image of God is not rightly made, and, although it is perhaps tolerated by the Church, yet it is not approved.” But Bellarmine himself pronounces that “it is lawful to depict even the Image of God the Father in the form of an old man, and of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove;” and appeals to Cajetan,[7] Ambrosius Catharinus,[8] Dieghus Payva,[9] Nicholas Sanders,[10] and Thomas Waldensis;[11] moreover, he labors to prove his own opinion by the Arguments that are here set forth by our AUTHOR in the Objections. The Council of Trent, final Session, declares, “The Synod desires that abuses be abolished; and that no images furnishing occasion of dangerous error be set up. But if it happen that the histories of Sacred Scripture are portrayed and represented, the people are to be taught that Divinity is not thereby represented, as though it could be seen by the eyes of the body, or be portrayed by colours or figures.”

To the representation of God by Corporeal Images our AUTHOR rightly opposes, α. That the Nature of His Essence, Spiritual and indeed Infinite, does not admit these: Contrariwise, what is visible to the bodily eye, or conceivable to the imagination, or in short reproducible in whatever corporeal appearance, that is equally repugnant to the Spirituality of God and His Infinity. And the several argument that follow, among which ε is related in the last place, because the opinion of the Ancient Christians was contrary; indeed, of the Icon-worshipping Second Council of Nicea itself, held in the year 787, that it not oly approved the opinion of the Thessalonian Bishop, who was willing that only corporeal and visible things be depicted, but was considering it a sin that the completely incorporeal and invisible God be depicted, as it is read in Act V: but also in Act VII, after the Fathers of that Council complained that they were calumniously accused of circumscribing His incomprehensible Nature, they add: “Christians have never made an image of His invisible and incomprehensible Nature; but as the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us,[12] those things that are of His human dispensation they depict and express in images.” Indeed, just a few centuries ago, by the command of Pope John XXII,[13] those that depicted the Trinity were to be burned as heretics; this is found in AVENTINUS’ Annalibus Bojorum,[14] book VII, chapter XV, § 17: see DALLÆUS’[15] de Imaginibus, book IV, pages 537-539, 549.

The Solution to the Objections is easy.

Objection 1: Angels are depicted. Responses: 1. Their essence is represented, not properly, but by Emblems only: 2. The consequence does not immediately proceed from these finite creatures to the Infinite God.

On Obections 2 and 3, see our AUTHOR, and what things have already been observed on § 14.

Objection 4: God often appeared in a Visible Form. Responses: α. Visible Apparitions of this sort are often gratuitously supposed, where only Visions of the fancy or exhibited in sleep are mentioned. β. God did not appear in a Visible Form, in such a way that He might be depicted; since He so many time severely interdicted this very thing: but now, not the singular deed of God, but the divine Law is the norm of our actions. γ. When God appeared visibly, His Essence was not seen, but only a symbol of His remarkable presence; neither, with the Apparition of this sort so represented by a picture, is the Essence of God depicted, but only that Creature, or the form of the Creature, under which God represented Himself.

On § 15, consult CALVIN’S Institutes of the Christian Religion, book I, chapter XI; JOHANNES VALCKENIER’S[16] Romam paganizantem, chapter XIX, pages 432-445; RIVET’S Explicationem Decalogi, on the question, Whether it be lawful to depict God? opera, tome I, pages 1254-1257.

[1] Anastasius I was Byzantine Emperor from 491 to 518.

[2] Eutyches (c. 380-c. 456) was a presbyter of Constantinople. He opposed Nestorius, arguing that Christ was a mixture of human and divine elements. He was excommunicated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

[3] Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos was a fourteenth century Greek ecclesiastical historian.

[4] Alonso Tostado, or Tostatus (c. 1400-1455), also known as Abulensis, was a Spanish, Roman Catholic churchman and scholar. He was trained in philosophy, theology, civil and canon law, Greek, and Hebrew; and wrote commentaries on Genesis through 2 Chronicles and the Gospel of Matthew, filled, not only with exegetical, but also with dogmatic, material.

[5] Durandus of Saint-Pourçain (c. 1275-c. 1332) was a French Dominican philosopher and theologian. He lectured and wrote commentaries on Lombard’s Sentences. In some matters, he differed from the great Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas, and became known as the Doctor Resolutissimus for his firm adherence to his novel positions.

[6] Martín Pérez de Ayala (1504-1566) was a Spanish, Roman Catholic Bishop.

[7] Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was an Italian Dominican. He was a theologian of great repute, and a learned proponent of a modified Thomism (Neo-Thomism). Due to his considerable talents, he was made a cardinal. Cajetan proved to be one of the more able opponents of the Reformation.

[8] Lancelot Politi, also known as Ambrosius Catharinus (1483-1553), was an Italian Dominican scholar, who played a prominent role at the Council of Trent in defense of the Papacy against the Reformation. In spite of theological eccentricities, he was considered to be an orthodox Romanist.

[9] Diogo de Payva de Andrada, also known as Andradius (1528-1575), was a Portuguese theologian. He was a member of the Council of Trent, and afterwards wrote Defensionem Tridentinæ fidei.

[10] Nicholas Sanders (c. 1530-1581) was an English, Roman Catholic Priest and controversialist. He wrote de Origine ac Progressu schismatic Anglicani.

[11] Thomas Netter, or Thomas Waldensis (c. 1375-1430) was an English, Roman Catholic Scholastic theologian. He was active in the persecution of the Wycliffites, Lollards, and Hussites..

[12] John 1:14.

[13] John XXII reigned as Pope from 1316 to 1334.

[14] Johann Georg Turmair, also known as Aventinus (1477-1534) was a Bavarian Humanist. His Annals of Bavaria preserves valuable material on the early history of Germany.

[15] Jean Daillé (1594-1670) was a Huguenot minister and Biblical scholar; theologically he was inclined to the tenets of Amyraldianism.

[16] Johannes Valckenier (1617-1670) was a Reformed scholar and theologian. He served as Professor of Theology and Church History at Franeker (1654-1668), and as Professor of Theology at Leiden (1668-1670).

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