In former Protestant churches I attended, rarely did I notice pictures or designs within the walls of the Church. Some mandatory things that were in the church were an empty cross, a Lord’s Supper picture, and maybe a Black Jesus portrait. For the most part, these churches I sat in week after week were really white walls and space.
It wasn’t until I started attending mass and becoming a Catholic that I got the experience that I longed to see which was a church engraved with stories and art.
During Christmas season, I stepped into a nearby parish for Wednesday evening mass and was encountered by the pastor who was seated on a pew. Him and another guy was speaking, and there the three of us were in an empty church. I spent most of my time observing the statues of the saints and the stations of the cross depiction on the walls. At the altar, was the tabernacle. Never had I really been in a space with so much spiritual things. It was a complete 180 for me. I was wholly intrigued!
As I’ve visited other parishes, I’m always fascinated by the beauty and depth of their icons and stained glass windows with their detailed depictions of saints and the ministry of Jesus on earth. When I see them, I can’t help but be in awe at their design. I heard it said best by an Eastern Orthodox blogger “the Bible is the faith in words, Icons are the faith in pictures.”
Honestly, many non-Catholics find icons and statues disturbing. Almost as if it is idolatry the way Catholics adorn themselves in scapulars, a rosary, pictures of saints and other aids for faith. If we’re being honest, there have been times when someone’s loved one has died, you can hear them say “I know they’re up In the sky praying for me. ” Or at times you might see a photo of their departed family member as a reminder of their impact in that person’s life. Little do non-Catholics know that they somewhat too share In the intercession of a saint when they perform these tasks.
Continuing on the idolatrous nature of icons, Iconoclasm, as the practice of removing images is commonly referred to, isn’t something strange to the history of the Church. For example, the Second Council of Nicea (787) discussed the usage of veneration of icons. Apparently, there was a dispute in the Church regarding idolatry and the use of icons for worship. The Church eventually settled the dispute in an ecumenical council affirming the usage of icons in worship.
Also, post-Protestant Reformation many people ravaged churches in Europe to rid them of their statues and any sign of veneration to saints.
Iconoclast today aren’t bursting through churches to strip the Church in hostility, but today it’s done in an entirely new way. This new era of iconoclasm is perpetuated by our cultures attack on Catholicism. In recent years, there has been a number of statue removals and vandalism committed across the country due to people being I’ll inform or doing “justice” by attacking “white chauvinist religion.”
Take for example vandalism of St.Junipero Serra who was an early American saint that performed missions across the west coast toward Native-Americans. During his canonization a few years ago, an intense debate surfaced about the legitimacy of his sainthood due to his participation with colonists who mistreated the natives. Just as most saints that were dedicated to a group such as St. Peter Claver or St. Francis Xavier, Serra showed immense love to the Indians and often times got in conflict with those in authority over their treatment to the Indians. Nonetheless, his statue was vandalized in California a few years ago, but recently another statue was beheaded with red paint splattered over it.
Saint Louis University in 2015 removed a statue of Pierre Jean De Smet, Jesuit Priest, that depicted him blessing two native Indians. The student’s deemed the statue as a clear showcase of colonialism and culturally insensitivity.
I read recently in August, that California’s first Catholic school is removing approximately 160 images to appear more inclusive to their student body which is predominantly non-Catholic.
These are all examples of modern-day iconoclasm. Just as removing a statue from a museum serves no other purpose than to revise history, same goes for the history of the Church when the statues and icons are no longer valued. We essentially neglect an entire Body of the Church.
The practice of venerating images, relics, or statues of a saint or martyr is a very ancient practice in Christianity. There is nothing we should fear about embracing those holy righteous friends of God to intercede for us, giving proper honor to the saints (dulia/hyperdulia NEVER latria which is the praise and adoration reserved for Father, Son, And Holy Spirit), and remembering their lives through pictures. Ultimately, All these things help us get closer to Jesus Christ. Therefore, it would be a grave mistake for Catholic institutions to further appease the growing wave of hostility toward Christianity.
During the tragedy regarding white supremacist and the statue of Robert R. Lee in Virginia back in August, many politicians have responded by stating they wouldn’t enforce the mass removal of statues. They’re rationale? Because despite how bad the figure is, erasing history isn’t the proper approach to resolving the issue.
The Church has to defend its practices against those that want to strip its saints of their honor.