Sunday, November 16, 2008

St. Bonaventure on the Veneration of Images

In III Sententiarum, d. 9 a.1 q.2:

"It should be said that the introduction of images in the Church was not without rational cause. For they were introduced on account of a triple cause, namely on account of the ignorance of simple folk, on account of the slowness of affections and on account of the weakness of memory. Images were introduced because of the ignorance of simple ones because those who cannot read the scriptures are able to more clearly read the mysterious of our faith in sculptures and pictures just as in the scriptures. They were introduced on account of slowness of affection so that men, who are not excited to devotion in those things that Christ did for us when they perceive them with their ears, might at least be excited when they discern them in figures and pictures just as if present to bodily eyes. For our affection is excited more by those things which we see than those which we hear. They were introduced on account of weakness of memory, because those things which are heard alone, are more easily given to oblivion than those things which are seen. For it is frequently verified by many that which is accustomed to be said: the word enters through one ear and goes out through another. Furthermore, one is not always quick to commit to memory by means of words past benefits supplied. Therefore it was made by the dispensation of God that images might be made, especially in churches, so that the ones seeing them might be reminded about the benefits given to us and about the virtuous deeds of the saints.

Since therefore the image of Christ has been introduced for representing him who was crucified for us, neither does it offer itself to us for itself but for him, therefore all reverence which is shown to it is shown to Christ. And therefore the worship(cultus) of latria ought to be shown to it. And this is what Augustine says in Book III of On Christian Doctrine: "he who venerates such a sign divinely instituted, of which he understands the power and signification, does not venerate this thing which he sees and which passes away, but rather that to which all such are referred."

Ad obj. 1-2: To that therefore which is objected in contrary, that it was prohibited for anyone to make for himself an image, it should be said that for that time it was prohibited, in which time God had not yet assumed human nature. For then, since God was entirely spirit, he was infigurable; and therefore to make an image of him was error and impiety. <...> God on account of his inward mercy was made man and held conversation with man, he did miracles, suffered, was crucified; these things are written for the memory of men and for our teaching. But because not all know letters nor are free for reading, the fathers decreed to describe certain triumphant images for ease of memory.

Ad obj. 5: To that which was objected, that that seems to be idolatry, it should be said that that is true, if the images are adored with respect to themselves, so that something divine is believed to be there. Now however it is not so, indeed the minds of the faithful venerate in an entirely different manner, and therefore they are not guilty of idolatry. And if you object that they are the occasion of error, it should be said that even the sacred letters were and are even today and also to other creatures sometimes the occasion of error; nevertheless, not on account of this should the letters be destroyed and the creatures that erred be destroyed, because this is a matter of divine judgement so that the good into more goods and evil into more evils are converted. So also it is to be understood about the images.

Ad obj. 6: To that which was objected that that does not have authority from scriptures, it should be said that the Apostles handed down many things which were not written. Hence the Apostle (Paul: I Cor. 2,2, II Thess. 2,14) praised those who held the traditions and the Church has preserved faithfully what she received from the Apostles. And so it is clear that images of this sort are not novelties, but are divine traditions and of apostolic sanction."


Brunellus said...

OT: Stefano Menegatti, an Italian student in North Carolina, has just started a blog called Medieval Latin Philosophy, which I thought might be of interest.

Anonymous said...

This isn't a persuasive case for images. First, the three reasons he gives for introducing images were also applicable during the period of time when (as he admits) they were prohibited. Accordingly, they cannot be sufficient reasons to warrant the introduction of images. Furthermore, it isn't simply idolatry to worship the images qua images. Baal worshipers were idolaters, but they weren't stupid. They didn't think their Baal statues were Baal; they thought they represented Baal. It is idolatry to worship either a false God (commandment 1) or to venerate images as representations of objects of worship (commandment 2--Presbyterian version). Hence, when Aaron and the Jews created the calf, they talked of worshiping Jehovah by it. (Hence, they created the calf for a "feast to the LORD". Exodus 32.4-5) -John

Isaac said...

"We define that the holy icons, whether in color, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor (timitiki proskynisis), but not of real worship (latreia), which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature, ... which is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands."
-- Seventh Ecumenical Council

Bonaventure seems to misunderstand the Greek term he's using-- latria. Latria is reserved for God alone, while the relative veneration of images-- proskynesis-- is what the Church has always taught.

Plus, I find these explanations to be incomplete. Nowhere does Bonaventure speak of images as defending the dogma of the Incarnation, as is found in the Orthodox Church. Neither is there any mention of the apostolic origins of iconography: St. Luke's painting of the Virgin, the Lord's icon "not made by hands" sent to Abgar of Edessa, or even the statue made by the woman healed of the "issue of blood" mentioned in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. Instead we find that images are "rational." That may be the case, but there are important dogmatic reasons for their presence, too.