The Use of Images and Statues in the Church. Vol 4, No. 21

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The statues of Jesus, Mary and Saints are found in every Catholic Church. So Catholics are accused of idolatry (Deut 4:16-18) based on the fact of Deut 4:15 in which it was confirmed that no image was presented to Moses during his call on Horeb. And in verse 19, he told them “beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and worship/serve them. And in Deut 5:8-9, he made it clear that he is a jealous God.
But what do we mean by idolatry? It is a pervasion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2114), is someone who transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.
Even if we come back to Old Testament, we should realize that God forbade the worship of images but did not prohibit the use of images and statues for religious purposes. Instances are found in the Bible -Exodus 25:18- God commanded the making of golden cherubim. In Numbers 21:18- God commanded the making of a fiery serpent. In Exodus 26:1- God commanded the making of a tabernacle by a skilled worker. And in 1 Kings 6:23- God did not condemn the images of cherubim in the sanctuary made by King Solomon. Other passages like Ex 26:31, 1 Chron 28:18, 2 Chron 3:10, Ezek 41:17-18, can testify to the use of images without God’s complaints.
Now entering the New Testament, as a fulfillment of the Old Testament, Christ voiced out- just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of Man will be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life (John 3:14)- that is the crucifix. The problem of our separated brethren has always been to read and understand the context of Scriptural passages.
As we keep and cherish images and statues of our loved ones and heroes of our communities, so does the Church value images and statues of Christians and the Saints. What about the flag we salute (just a piece of cloth) but it reminds us of our unity as a nation. Funnily enough, those protestant critics do have images in some of their bibles, which they use in teaching. I still recall an incident in Nigeria, when one of those self-acclaimed ministers went to the television and broke a crucifix in full view of the people. A few years later, this minister became a politician and sort for people’s vote. Of course, his political career met a knotted end as he could not explain the intelligence exhibited in ridiculing another church for a doctrine he did not understand. On the long run his members confused him that it is part of the suffering he had to bear for Christ crucified (whose image he destroyed), what a contradiction!
It is noteworthy that in the past, God did not reveal himself in any visible form but later, he revealed himself under a visible form in Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). The holy spirit revealed himself under at least two visible forms, that of the dove at the baptism of Christ (Matt 3;16, Mk 1:10, Lk 3:22, Jn 1:32) and as tongues of fire as on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Protestants also use these images to represent the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and even biblical persons on their picture books, shirts, car stickers, compact discs etc. What they have refused to understand is that since God has revealed himself in various images, especially in Jesus Christ, it is not wrong for us to use these images to deepen our knowledge and love of God.
Far more importantly, those Israelites bitten by serpent were healed when they looked at the serpent made by Moses (Num 21:8-9). The implication is that images and statues could be used ritually, not just as religious decoration. Kneeling and bowing in front of a statues does not mean worship as some non-Catholics claim. Bowing and kneeling in various societies/culture can be a kind of greeting or sign of respect.
The cause of the fall of Israel as recorded in 2 kings 17:7-23, was because they served filthy idols.(17:12). In that very passage, the word “idol” does not just mean an image or representation, like we have images of Jesus and the saints. But idol here refers to an object that is considered as sacred as God himself and takes his place in our hearts. By embracing the idols of the foreign nations, the Israelites also adopted their filthy and worthless cultural practices in sex, greed and violence. Moreover, the honor given to blessed Virgin Mary, the angels and saints is aimed at the glory of God almighty and do not take the place of God. No wonder the honor given to the Saints is called dulia, that of Mary is hyperdulia whereas the worship of God (alone) is latria.
Against this backdrop, it therefore becomes clear that Catholics are not doing anything unbiblical. God did not condemn the use of images and statues in the Church, or as ritual; what is abomination is the worship of such images as God with the ceremonious ungodly practices that are accompanying it. Similarly, one who allows the pursuit of wealth and money to take the primordial place of God is practicing idolatry

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